The Customer Is Always Right — Sometimes

Rob Bodner |

The customer is always right. We’ve all heard it, and to a large degree it should be true. That is, right up to the point when it gets in the way of your main goal, which is running a successful vended-laundry business.While all owners would love to sit down with their customers and go through some training (just imagine the topics we could cover — proper loading, wiping up spills ... oh, the possibilities!), we’re left with a couple of tools to govern customer behavior.SIGNAGELet’s start with signage. It may seem like a passive way to manage customer behavior, but it’s not. You have to look at the signs in your laundry as the foremost method of setting standards for conduct in the business. They will also be the best way for attendants to show that all customers are held to the same standards.For example, a customer may be using foul language while children are present. Your well-trained, professional attendant will no doubt approach said customer and ask him/her to stop or ask him/her to leave. There’s always a possibility that the customer will fall back on the “You’re just picking on me because I’m (insert whatever ethnic, religious, gender or other perceived bias here)” excuse. Good signage will be your attendant’s best tool for countering this argument. They can simply point to the sign and say, “These are the standards that we apply to all customers.”ATTENDANTSObviously, the attendant is a key component in this example and other situations your store will encounter. Since we agree that we can’t bring in our customers for training, how do we make sure that the attendants know what’s expected of them? Some people in this business will stress the importance of creating an employee manual. Nice in theory, but since most of us don’t work in human resources or want to do so, I see this as an unnecessary tool. In my stores, I’ve found it’s more beneficial to break things down into some simple guidelines, such as:

  • Treat others — customers and co-workers — the way that you want to be treated.
  • Act with the best interests of the store in mind. This requires good judgment. If a customer has forgotten to add an item to a load and asks for a re-start on a machine, do it. That’s good customer service. If someone appears to be abusing this service, we need to educate him or her.
  • Be honest.
  • When you’re not sure what to do, use common sense.

None of these guidelines are groundbreaking, but they comprise the essence of what you should expect from your attendants. Of course, I tell new owners to expect that, as simple as these standards seem to be to follow, 80% of their hires won’t be there in a few months. Some will leave on their own, and others will be asked to leave. Therefore, continue to reinforce the guidelines.KEEP IT SIMPLEFor signs that explain what’s expected from customers, you don’t need the Magna Carta, just simple rules written in both English and Spanish. They will cover four areas — use of the facility, use of the machines, behavior and responsibility. A few “must-haves” include:

  • Customers should check machines before and after use.- We are not responsible for lost or damaged items.- We are not responsible for items left behind.- We may remove items left in machines when necessary.
  • Customers must check pockets for items before using machines.
  • At management’s discretion, abusive or offensive behavior will not be tolerated.
  • Children are their guardian’s responsibility — running, climbing, yelling and any unsafe behavior is not permitted.
  • Soliciting or loitering under any circumstances is not permitted.

Some new owners might think that a kiddie play area is the best means of keeping little ones from tearing up the store. I’m all for a children’s area, but I encourage owners to stay away from a play area that includes slides or climbing toys. These types of physical activities can open owners up to liability. Instead, I’d opt for a separate space with seating and perhaps its own television, along with toys, games and books.OPEN FOR BUSINESSWith the proper signage setting the tone for the store and staff that’s well versed on expectations for conduct, it’s time to open for business. My next bit of advice as it relates to customers and attendants may be difficult to follow — relax. Like a fine wine, let the store “breathe.” By this, I mean each store is different, and owners should let their stores develop their own personalities.You’ll get an idea of the customer base, see problem areas, and observe how attendants interact with customers. It should be a benevolent dictatorship. Attendants and customers will make mistakes, but it’s up to you and your staff to correct them and learn from these situations. This may involve adding to your posted policies, adding additional signage or fine-tuning expectations for staff.TO REFUND OR NOT TO REFUND?You might be wondering about refund policies and ensuring profits stay in the store. Well, I’m a huge believer in card payment systems, and I think they eliminate many theft problems. It is, however, incumbent on owners to monitor when and why machines are being started by staff by utilizing a log and reviewing surveillance images to verify the data. There are many simple ways to do this.Again, it’s important to stress to staff that the customer is always right — sometimes. If customers continue to make the same mistakes, part of the blame falls on them, as well as the staff for not helping them learn the first few times.What it all boils down to is responsibility and personality. Customers must take responsibility for their actions and we must take responsibility for a clean, well-run establishment. Enforcing standards in a constructive, friendly manner — not critical or personal — will allow the customers to learn without being offended. That’s the biggest benefit of training. Signs reinforce the verbal admonishment. Executing anything less and expecting anything more will hurt your business from the start. 

About the author

Rob Bodner



Rob Bodner is president of EFR in Park Ridge, N.J. If you have any questions or comments about this column, Bodner can be reached at 201-507-8274 or


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